Bible Review 4:2, April 1988

Bible Books

Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Resistance in Roman Palestine

Richard A. Horsley (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987) 355 pp., $27.95

Occasionally there appears a volume that rearranges the historical landscape. Richard Horsley’s work does just that with its fresh reconstruction of Roman Palestine and the ministry of Jesus.

The author counters the traditional view that a sect of Zealots came to dominate first-century Israel and drew the nation into war with Rome (66–70 A.D.). According to Horsley, “zeal” was a minor factor, and the group calling itself “Zealots” did not form until 68 A.D. Without the Zealot hypothesis, a complex picture emerges, which Horsley paints with the aid of socio-historical studies of violence, terrorism and revolution. He sees an agrarian society with a wealthy elite and impoverished peasants; a tense “colonial situation” in which imperial Rome dominated politically, economically and culturally through the Jewish rulers; and a breakdown of village life leading to widespread popular resistance.

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